Pets in South Africa are increasingly being treated as part of the family, with owners spending more and aligning their pet's lifestyle with their own.
This is according to Insight Survey's 2019 South African Pet Care Industry Landscape Report, and yet for many, the biggest challenge is finding pet-friendly homes.
There are not nearly enough pet-friendly rental properties to meet the high demand as a growing number of landlords and body corporates across the board are adopting a ‘no pet’ policy, even when the home is spacious with large grounds.
It has also become an issue in the purchase market where we are seeing more and more sectional title and cluster developments imposing an outright ban on pets, severely limiting buyer’s choices, especially in the lower to mid-markets.
People assume that because the suburbs are traditionally family oriented, there would be more pet-friendly accommodation available but this is simply not the case anymore.
Landlords equating animals with damage Densification has led to a growing number of clusters and complexes in suburban areas and even those with homes with small gardens often restrict or ban pets and it seems landlords are increasingly equating animals with damage, and this sometimes even extends to smaller pets like birds.
However, the decision to not allow pets in a complex or rental property is usually based on envisioned problems rather than actual issues.
According to a recent American study ‘Companion animal renters and pet-friendly housing in the US’, there is little, if any, difference in damage resulting from tenants with or without pets.
And, interestingly, the cost of damage from pets was much smaller than the costs associated with tenants with children – and we all know that kids can be a lot noisier than animals.
Low availability of pet-friendly rental properties
Lorraine-Marie Delbridge, rental manager for the group in Cape Town’s Southern Suburbs says that whilst at least 60% of their prospective tenant’s request pet-friendly accommodation, only 20% of their rental properties cater to this need.
Even in the current market with many more available rental properties, people often continue the search until the 24th hour, but sadly it’s no longer uncommon for desperate home seekers to eventually resort to re-homing or even surrendering their pets when they fail to find pet-friendly accommodation in time.”
Many clusters and complexes have become extremely strict regarding pets and that the few that do allow them have to approve them first which means that agents have to make a plea on the prospective tenant’s behalf, sometimes even having to supply photos.
Many landlords only consider the possible drawbacks of having pets in their investment properties, failing to weigh them against the benefits of offering pet-friendly accommodation, of which there are many:
- Increased demand: With demand far exceeding supply, this usually means shorter vacancy periods, thereby ensuring a steady cash flow from rent payments;
- More applications: Which allows your property manager to be very selective in choosing the best tenants for your property;
- Higher rentals: Pet-friendly properties usually achieve higher rentals as most pet owners are happy to pay premium for suitable accommodation;
- Pet owners are long-term: Pet-friendly rentals are hard to come by, especially for people who need gardens for dogs or have multiple pets, and moving is also much harder with pets, so once they secure a suitable property, they are generally inclined to sign a longer lease and/or renew their lease. This is supported by the US research which found that that tenants with pets stayed an average of 23 to 46 months compared to just 15 to 18 months for tenants without pets;
- Pet owners are generally responsible: Pets come with many needs and if someone chooses to have a pet long-term, it shows that they are generally a responsible person overall, which often transfers to their management of other key aspects like paying rent on time and taking care of the property.
Although it may seem like they are putting their properties at risk by allowing tenants with pets, there are ways that landlords can protect themselves and their properties, all the while opening up their investments to a whole new market:
- Additional deposit: Landlords can raise the deposit to cover additional damage that may occur;
- Setting rules: These can include limiting the number of pets allowed on the property, only allowing approved pets to live on the property, establishing how clean the yard must be kept and setting approved spaces for the pet in shared properties;
- Adjust the inspection criteria: Ensure the tenant understands that even slight damage to interior features like flooring or holes or dead grass in the garden will be included in the exit inspection and the property will need to be left in the same condition as when entering the lease;
- Amend the lease: Include the specific pet deposit and other relevant terms like requiring a flea treatment inside and out when vacating the property.
The fact is that for many people, pets are part of a home and in many instances, we’d almost argue that landlords are missing out on the perfect tenant because of their fear of damage a pet might cause.
If the concern is simply that pet urine could damage carpets, it would be well worth the cost of replacing them with something hardier like tiles and insist on a professional deep clean by a professional cleaning company on termination and vacation of lease.
Densification is the future
Densification is the future face of every city in South Africa, just as surely as people will continue to want to keep pets, and somewhere along the line there is going to have to be more compromise because neither cluster housing nor pets will be disappearing any time soon.
If trustees and landlords want to maintain standards by having their choice of the most desirable residents out of the entire pool of home seekers in the country rather than simply the best of those who don't own animals, then more flexibility is going to be needed in the property marketplace.